♫ The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald ♫

This is the song I intended to play yesterday, before I learned of the death of David Crosby and felt the need to do a brief tribute to him and his music.  I seem to be in “Gordon Lightfoot mode” this week, and this is one of his best, in my opinion.

Edmund-Fitzgerald-2On November 10, 1975 a crew of 29 died when the 729-foot ore carrier SS Edmund Fitzgerald foundered in 80 mile-an-hour winds and blinding snow squalls with wave heights up to 25 feet on Lake Superior.  So … why did Lightfoot write a song about it?

lightfoot“The Edmund Fitzgerald really seemed to go unnoticed at that time, anything I’d seen in the newspapers or magazines were very short, brief articles, and I felt I would like to expand upon the story of the sinking of the ship itself. And it was quite an undertaking to do that. I went and bought all of the old newspapers, got everything in chronological order, and went ahead and did it because I already had a melody in my mind and it was from an old Irish dirge that I heard when I was about three and a half years old. I think it was one of the first pieces of music that registered to me as being a piece of music. That’s where the melody comes from, from an old Irish folk song.”

Over the years Lightfoot has made several small alterations to the song either at the behest of families of those who perished or to correct an error of fact, although he has never altered the copyrighted lyrics.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship’s bell rang
Could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too,
T’was the witch of November come stealin’
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin’
When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin’
Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya
At seven p.m., a main hatchway caved in, he said
Fellas, it’s been good to know ya
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when ‘is lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind ‘er
They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the maritime sailors’ cathedral
The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early

Songwriters: Gordon Lightfoot
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc

30 thoughts on “♫ The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald ♫

  1. Pingback: ♫ The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald ♫ – Joe Stilez Music

  2. Gordon is on record as saying he thinks this is his best song, and I wouldn’t disagree with him. A great song, for which the British record-buying public didn’t do justice. I looked up the charts and it peaked here at #40 in January 1977. The #1 that week was David Soul – yet another example of the criminally poor choices we have made!

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    • The public wants what it wants. David Soul is all but forgotten. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald makes the ship and sailors live on. How did Black Day in July fare across the pond?

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      • Songs like this do live on – they’re aren’t disposable pop pap and they have merit. Bad Day in July didn’t make our charts, but at least it didn’t get banned here like it did in much of the US, as far as I know. Gordon has only had four minor hit singles here, the first (and highest) of which was If You Could Read My Mind, which got to #30.

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        • Just wondering, Clive. Was Bad Day in July a typo, or did the Brits actually change the name of the song?
          Probably the former, but given the way they changed albums from England to Canada in the 60s and 70s, changing a name would not surprise me. Are You Experienced was not the same in Canada as in England, and Hair was different between Canada and England. So, curiosity demands I ask.

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          • Sorry, my fault – a typo! You’re right about the way albums were changed in those days, though. Record companies decided they knew what was best for the North American market and messed around a lot, particularly with Beatles and Stones albums. Some of theirs are unrecognisable to us from the original track listings we had! If you look at their discographies on Wikipedia they have separate sets of listings.

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              • It was more a question of how they repackaged them and filled the albums out. You actually had five more Beatles albums than we did, but didn’t get any more songs than us. It happened to other bands too: Led Zeppelin didn’t release singles here but their record company did in most other countries, so they had chart hits that we only saw on their albums. All down to contracts, I guess.

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                • Contracts, but also what Record Companies that thought what would or would not sell. Buying albums in discount stores or garage sales, it was easy to tell where the records were pressed. Any putting less songs opn an album guaranteed we would be buying more slbums than you guys.

                  5 more Beatles albums in Canada? We got ripped off.

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                  • Record companies making the biggest bucks possible. It was mostly early Beatles albums that got messed around, later ones were synchronised across all markets. They played that ‘fewer songs’ trick at least once, if my memory serves me well.

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  3. Pingback: ♫ The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald ♫ — Filosofa’s Word | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

  4. Jill, we love this storytelling song in tribute to those who died in the shipwreck. We got to see Lightfoot a few years ago. I told my wife I thought he had passed away, so let’s go see him. He spoke between songs which was a treat. Before I had to get rid of my car and its six CD player, a Gordon Lightfoot Greatest Hits CD was a constant in slot 4. Keith

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